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Monday, 12 June, 2000, 06:15 GMT 07:15 UK
Inquiry into malaria error
Paratrooper in Sierra Leone
Troops were given one day's notice of the trip
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon faces pressure to explain why UK troops sent to Sierra Leone were not given the right anti-malaria drugs because of a military supply error.

Liberal Democrats' armed forces spokesman Paul Keetch will press the minister for an explanation after at least 18 soldiers came down with the disease due to a lack of the correct pills.

Commons Defence Select Committee spokesman Bruce George has separately demanded that the Ministry of Defence explain how the mistake happened.


Stocks, equipment, arms and now even drugs are at rock bottom

Paul Keetch
An investigation has been launched after troops from the First and Second Battalions of the Parachute Regiment ran out of anti-malaria drug, Mefloquine, in Senegal, as they travelled to Sierra Leone.

The MoD has blamed a supply error for troop doctors being forced to buy a less effective drug, Gavarin.

Several soldiers had to take Gavarin - which is 20% less effective - for a few days before more supplies of Mefloquine were shipped out.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "It was clearly a mistake and the outcome was very unsatisfactory.

"We are now trying to pinpoint the troops who were affected.

MoD reassessment

"We are also looking at the whole operation to assess what went wrong so we can ensure it does not happen again."

Paul Keetch said of the mistake: "This once again shows that our armed services have been cut back to the very bone.

"Stocks, equipment, arms and now even drugs are at rock bottom.

"Mix this with troops who are overstretched, and a 3% year-on-year defence cut which the Labour Party has brought in, and situations like this are bound to happen."

The rapid escalation of the war in Sierra Leone added to the problem. It meant soldiers were given just one day's notice before travelling.

The Foreign Office recommends that anyone who travels to malaria-infested areas takes Mefloquine for two to three weeks before they travel.

'Elementary mistake'

Bruce George said: "The defence committee will be seeking an explanation and the results of the MoD's own investigation into the error which they have admitted.

"The defence committee has conducted and processed about five reports into Gulf War Syndrome and it seems well and truly amazing, with the persistent beatings they have had over the Gulf War Syndrome, that an elementary mistake should be made over anti-malarial tablets.

"Every first year medical student and tourist knows that Sierra Leone equals risk of malaria. Somebody should have told the MoD."

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See also:

11 Jun 00 | Politics
Prescott tours West Africa
25 Feb 00 | UK
Catalogue of MoD misery
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